Netflix is peering into the seedy underbelly of Berlin crime with new drama Dogs of Berlin. Premiering Dec. 7, the series centers around two cops, Erol Birkan (Fahri Yardim) and Felix Kramer (Karl Grimmer), assigned to investigate the murder of a star soccer player. Like all good buddy cop stories, their clashing personalities make them an unlikely team. And while Erol Birkan isn’t based on a real person, there’s plenty of insight to be gleaned about his character.
Based on the description in German newspaper Bild Zeitung, Birkan is a descendent of Turkish immigrants from the Kreuzberg district of Berlin. During the time of the Berlin Wall — when he would have been growing up — Kreuzberg was located in West Berlin, surrounded by the wall on three sides. West Berlin itself was an island, surrounded entirely by Russian-occupied East Germany, a separate nation from capitalist West Germany.
Kreuzberg was (and still is) in the former American sector of West Berlin, and its cheap cost of living made it home to many of the Turkish and Italian guest workers that arrived in Berlin for construction jobs to help rebuild the city after World War II. The area in which Birkan grew up would have been rough, poor, and relatively liberal in comparison to what lay on the opposite side of the wall.
Since then, many parts of Kreuzberg have undergone a dramatic transformation, becoming steadily more gentrified through time. However, citizens of Kreuzberg’s have fought — and succeeded to some extent — to preserve the borough’s identity. For instance, when Google announced plans to open a campus in an area where rents were already rising, year-long protests managed to eventually turn the internet giant away.
In contrast, Birkan’s partner, Kurt Grimmer, would have grown up in East Berlin, a separate country entirely called the German Democratic Republic (GDR). The GDR was under the strict regime of the Soviet Union, who used spying and scare tactics to enforce their harsh rule on the country. Until the fall of the wall in 1989, the two men would likely never have had the chance to meet.
Today, people of Turkish descent make up the largest minority population in Germany and in Berlin, per World Atlas. However, the laws which regulated German citizenship have made for some tense race relations between the German and Turkish population. In the ’70s — around the time Birkan would have been born — the laws on nationality dictated that children born to Turkish parents in Germany would take on their parents nationality, rather than that of the country in which they were born, according to Deutsche Welle. Since then, the law has changed, but there are still many second- and third- generation German-born Turks that don’t hold German citizenship. Thus, the lingering effects of the law are still felt today.
Dogs of Berlin delves into these issues, among others, with all the theatricality of a crime thriller. While Birkan and the other characters in the show might not be based on specific individuals, the history of the city affects both them and real people alike. Growing up in one of the most isolated and unique areas in the world during the Cold War period profoundly influenced the people and the district of Kreuzberg forever, and it’s this rich and complicated modern legacy that Birkan’s character represents.
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